Cooking Up a Storm: The Student Experience in the Culinary Arts Lab

by Korakot ‘Gab’ Suriya-arporn

Tournedos Rossini for Escoffier dinner
Tournedos Rossini for Escoffier dinner

“Five minutes! Food must be up front!” yells the male chef. A collective “Yes, Chef!” quickly follows, and students dressed in their chef’s whites hurry to bring heated dishes to the plating space, quickly sauté Brussels sprouts with crispy bacon, ladle the butternut squash soup into bowls, toss the mesclun greens with mustard vinaigrette, and reheat the perfectly seared rib-eye steak. With swift, decidedly meaningful, and efficient movements, plates are soon presented at the pass station. In contrast to the previous adrenalin rush, this is a moment of happiness, peace, and calm. All the food comes out beautifully and on time. This is another course nicely done.

As part of the Certificate Program in the Culinary Arts, the fascination of kitchen work is fully explored in the 14-week Culinary Arts Laboratory course. Students of various backgrounds come into the kitchen four days a week to learn about cooking techniques and gastronomic quirks— a great combination of lecture and hands-on learning. Daily lessons start with the foundations of preparing and cooking food, such as making stocks and butchering meat to different types of cooking methods and presentation.

Fall 2012 class with Chef Jacques Pepin" (Photo courtesy of Audrey Reid)
Fall 2012 class with Chef Jacques Pepin” (Photo courtesy of Audrey Reid)

All sensory tools are put to great use as we learn to watch, smell, hear, taste, and touch ingredients and dishes from a wide range of cuisines and cultures. Sensory knowledge is the most fundamental and perhaps crucial approach to food, as we feel the doneness of the grilled beef with our fingers, listen as the celery seeds pop in the heated pan, smell the fragrance of freshly chopped basil leaves, watch the sugar as it turns into amber-colored caramel, and taste the delicate texture of chocolate ganache and the crunchiness of hazelnut dacquoise. In addition, we learn to not only create delicious and aesthetically pleasing food, but a whole new perspective to see food that also promotes sustainability and self-sufficiency in the food system.

As part of the course, we learned from a number of renowned chefs from restaurants throughout the Boston area and beyond. Some — like Chef Jeremy Sewall from Island Creek Oyster Bar and Chef Chris Douglass from Ashmont Grill and Tavoloof — even arrange for students to visit their restaurants and learn to work in a professional kitchen. The connections made by meeting and getting to know these chefs are invaluable for those who want to submerge themselves in the Boston foodscape.

Dishes from the first Market Basket challenge
Dishes from the first Market Basket challenge

The course calendar is also marked with special events in which students participate. The biggest events last semester — the Julia Child Centenary events — united more than twenty chefs to celebrate the 100th birthday of The French Chef host and Gastronomy program co-founder. Students worked with these chefs, brushing shoulders as we helped to cook, prepare, and plate dishes, as if we are a part of their kitchen brigade. Of course, the biggest name chef would absolutely be Jacques Pepin.

As the program came to an end, we students set the menu and invited our friends and families to our graduation, which celebrates our learning, teamwork, and camaraderie. While we now each embark on our own food path, we have learned together, gaining more skills and confidence in cooking and baking and tackling the oft dreaded heat in the kitchen. We have learned some of the many ways to approach food and ingredients with deep respect, appreciation, and comprehension. The Culinary Arts Laboratory has truly changed our lives forever.

Korakot Suriya-arporn or “Gab” is a current Gastronomy student. He comes from Bangkok, Thailand, and has a background in journalism.

September Food Events

Image from: http://www.squidoo.com/september-food-holidays?utm_source=google&utm_medium=imgres&utm_campaign=framebusterAs we kick off the fall 2012 semester, add not only all your assignment due dates to your calendar, but also some of these great food events.

From lectures on sustainable agriculture, spoons, and American terroir to festivals celebrating food, wine, and of course fluff, there’s something for everyone. And while the Julia Child Centenary Symposium is currently full, you can register for the wait list.

Events are continually added, so check the Events section of the blog often.

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 11

Join us as Katie Dolph, candidate for the MLA in Gastronomy, defends her thesis, entitled “Willamette Valley Wines: Sustainability, Terroir and Place Making.”

4 pm, Fuller Building, 808 Commonwealth Ave, Room 122

–AND–

What will the tomato of the future look like? The landscape of modern agriculture and our food system is constantly evolving. The Farm Bill, the organic food industry, and small-scale local farms all play a role in what ends up on our plate every day.

Rachel Black, Gastronomy Assistant Professor and Academic Coordinator, will participate in a Sustainable Agriculture Panel along with Nathan Phillips, BU Associate Professor of Earth & Environment; Kate Stillman, Farm Proprietor at Stillman’s at the turkey Farm—Hardwick, MA; and Britt Lundgren, Director of Organic and Sustainable Agriculture for Stonyfield Farms. The panel will discuss the current state of agriculture and what the future may hold. Refreshments will be served.

To learn more about sustainability efforts at BU, visit bu.edu/sustainability.

6 pm, Sargent College, 635 Commonwealth Avenue, Room 101

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 13 – SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 15

The Taste of WBGH: Food & Wine Festival will feature more than 100 wineries, local chefs, restaurants, and local artisanal foods, produce, and purveyors across three delightful days.

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 17

Warren Belasco, Visiting Professor of Gastronomy, will present a special lecture, titled,  “Can Food Save Washington? Inventing Terroir for the Nation’s Capital.”

6 pm, SHA Auditorium, 928 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 21

Siting Julia, a Julia Child Centenary Symposium is hosted by the The Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Distinguished speakers will focus on three “sites” that Julia Child inhabited, learned from, and influenced: Post–World War II Paris; Cambridge, Massachusetts; and National Television.

The event is currently at capacity, but you can register for the wait list.

9:15 am, Radcliffe Gymnasium, 10 Garden Street, Cambridge, MA

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 24

As part of the Pèpin Lecture Series in Food Studies and Gastronomy, Mary Beaudry, professor of Archaeology, Anthropology, and Gastronomy, and chair of BU’s Archaeology department will present There’s a Spoon for That! The Lives and Times of an Ubiquitous Utensil.

She will explore the myriad forms of—and uses for—spoons, from ancient times to the present, looking at the ways in which the qualities of “spooniness” take on cultural significance.

Please register here.

6 pm, 808 Commonwealth Avenue, Room 117, Boston

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 29

The “What the Fluff?” Festival, dedicated to the delicious marshmallow spread, features events, performances, games, and more. The festival is free and open to the public. Note September 30 is the raindate.

3-7 pm, Union Square, Somerville

BU Gastronomy Program Welcomes 39 New Students

Image from: http://younggov.org/?attachment_id=666This semester, the Boston University Gastronomy Program is pleased to welcome 31 new candidates for the MLA in Gastronomy and eight Food Studies Certificate students.

With varied backgrounds, such as anthropology, psychology, chemistry, journalism, and the culinary arts, this cohort of students will contribute to the intellectual diversity of the program.

A number of students come from New England, while even more hail from states across the US, as well as abroad. We welcome them all to their new home in Boston — and to the Gastronomy program.

To learn more, read the new student profiles.

Food News Round Up: On Obesity, Eating Rodents, & the Economy (Yes, in that order)

by Emily Contois
Image from: http://www.benefitsbabble.com/news-round-up-nov/The past couple of weeks have provided fecund fodder for the food news enthusiast. Any fan of the CDC’s year-by-year ever-increasing obesity map will be intrigued that the 2011 data was released recently, alongside other obesity news. The news also turned up studies of disgust, which you can explore firsthand in articles on cooking up rat and squirrel. And finally, the struggling economy continues to affect life in the U.S. and abroad, especially dining trends.

So, dig in to this edition of Food News Round Up…

Food and Obesity

Obesity remains a key issue both culturally and politically, especially with the release of the CDC’s most recent obesity statistical analysis.

Food and Disgust

Disgust is an always interesting element of eating. Would you consider rat or squirrel?

Food and the Economy

As the ‘Great Recession’ continues to be felt by citizens across the globe, the restaurant industry also tightens its belt.

Delightful Leftovers

These tidbits of food news defy categorization this week, but should still satisfy.

Emily is a gastronomy student and graduate assistant, editing the Gastronomy at BU blog, January-August, 2012. Check out her research in food studies, nutrition, and public health on her blog, emilycontois.com

Celebrating Julia Child’s Centenary with her Assistant & BU Alumna, Stephanie Hersh

by Emily Contois

As food lovers across America celebrate today what would have been Julia Child’s 100th birthday, Boston University Gastronomy students, faculty, and alumni celebrate not only Julia, but also the academic program that is part of her legacy.

Established by Julia Child and Jacques Pépin, the Boston University Master of Liberal Arts in Gastronomy program is primed to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of its founding—and what better way to learn about how it all began than to sit down with Stephanie Hersh, the first graduate of the program with a Major in Gastronomy, and Julia Child’s full-time personal assistant for nearly 16 years.

Stephanie Hersh, the first graduate of the Master of Liberal Arts program with a Major in Gastronomy,
with Julia Child

While interested in food from an early age, Hersh recalls that pursuing a career in food was not always viewed with esteem, respect, and a degree of celebrity, but rather as invisible, manual labor. Regardless, after receiving her undergraduate degree, Hersh studied at the Culinary Institute of America, and happily began working in Boston-area hotel kitchens and as a private chef. While taking a course to augment her administrative skills, Hersh got word that Julia Child was looking for an assistant.

“I never in a million years would have pictured myself with Julia,” she says. “It was a dream job.” While working with Child, Hersh expressed her concern for yet another change in the restaurant industry. “It used to be that you could start in a restaurant as a pot washer and work your way up to become the executive chef,” says Hersh. “Eventually, that stopped being the case because chefs needed to know about nutrition and menu planning; to understand how to balance a meal and the connection between food and culture. They needed to be media savvy. The chef suddenly became someone who was important and thus needed more training.”

A strong advocate of education, always eager to learn new things herself, Child participated in meetings with Boston-area chefs and academics alike, collective efforts which eventually resulted in the creation of the Boston University Master of Liberal Arts in Gastronomy program. The program now graduates healthy cohorts of students on an annual basis, who pursue careers not only in restaurant kitchens, but also in academia, food and agricultural policy, and other areas of the food industry. Hersh gushed, “Julia would be so thrilled to know the program is still carrying on and doing so well.”

As the first graduate of the Master of Liberal Arts program with a Major in Gastronomy, Hersh describes her studies as a broadening experience. She says:

The food and culture link is key. Food is a great ‘socializer.’ It connects people in a non-threatening way. Think about when you’re on an airplane. Most people sit and put their heads down, trying to avoid eye contact or talking to anyone. But once the in-flight meal is served, strangers connect. The icebreaker is discussions about the food.

For her thesis, titled, “Children’s Cookery Books: Windows into Social and Economic Change,” Hersh built upon her personal and professional interest in children’s cooking. She drew from resources in the Johnson and Wales University Culinary Arts Museum cookbook collection, exploring children’s cooking alongside historical, social, and economic trends.

Stephanie Hersh

Hersh still loves cooking with children. She currently lives in Christchurch, teaching adult education cooking courses and a twelve-week food technology course to New Zealand school children, 11 to 13 years of age. This food technology course is required across the country and serves as a pre-cursor to home economics courses, which are taken in high school. She teaches students how to use kitchen equipment, the basics of food processing, and creative, critical thinking skills.

Hersh advises all students, “Go with passion, absolute passion in the study of food. If you’re not, there’s no point in doing it. When you are happy, it becomes infectious.” She quips that while she has no idea what her future holds, “ Whatever I’ll be doing, I’ll be happily doing it—and I’m proud and delighted that the Gastronomy program is carrying on so well.”

Celebrating Julia Child’s Centenary 

The Boston University Metropolitan College Programs in Food, Wine & the Arts will celebrate Julia Child’s centenary over the course of two festive evenings – Tuesday, October 2 and Wednesday, November 7. Visit the program website for further details. 

Emily is a gastronomy student and graduate assistant, editing the Gastronomy at BU blog, January-August, 2012. She is also the recipient of a Julia Child Award for Excellence in Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts and a Jacques Pépin award for Scholarship in Gastronomy and Food Studies. Check out her research in food studies, nutrition, and public health on her blog, emilycontois.com